By KAITLYN NAPLES
HARTFORD– Even though it was only about three weeks before the first day of the legislative session, the Legislative Office Building (LOB) in Hartford was buzzing with forums, economic development sessions, and other discussions where elected officials like State Representative Elizabeth “Betty” Boukus (D-22 Plainville and New Britain) were listening in on and taking notes on issues that have come up.
This is just one way state representatives, such as Betty, prepare for the three-month long session, which begins on Feb. 5. This session, legislators are only allowed to propose bills that deal with the state budget, or require state funding.
On a cloudy and chilly Thursday recently, Betty generously took time out of her busy schedule to show me what it takes to get ready for the busy session. Even though she had to step away for a bit to meet with the governor’s chief of staff, she made sure I saw every inch of the LOB and the State Capitol and met as many individuals as possible, who all have a story of how they got to be behind the scenes helping to make the state government operate.
We met initially in her office on the fourth floor of the LOB, with her two legislative aides, Aurora D’Angona and Todd Murphy. Betty was checking email, getting updates while relaying information to her aides about a bill she is proposing in this session – the implementation of medical drop boxes at each police station in the state.
“The state can’t afford not to have clean water,” she said, adding that when people flush expired or never-used medications it filters into the public water, which leads to contamination. Throughout the day, Betty was busy talking with co-legislators from both parties to garner up support for her bill. Within just a few hours, she had three signatures.
Once the bill is written up, it is proposed to various committees, like public heath, public safety, finance, etc. After discussions, a public hearing would be the next step where Betty, and others in support of this bill, would attend to state their comments on why this bill is important to Connecticut. The medical drop box bill, Betty said, came up because her hometown of Plainville has had one in its police station for the past few years.
Because last year’s budget was a two-year budget plan, this session will be held to make any adjustments that either party may bring up.
Plainville also recently implemented full-day kindergarten at its schools, which Betty, the superintendent of schools and the Board of Education were responsible for.
Betty was able to secure funding for this after one of her constituents displayed his desire to attend full-day kindergarten. Logan, a constituent of Betty’s, was placed in the “lottery” for full-day kindergarten in Plainville. When he didn’t get chosen, he stated he still wanted to go to kindergarten, full-time. Betty worked with Superinten-dent Jeffrey Kitching, and the state to be able to bring full-day kindergarten to Plainville, which she was successful in doing and the Board of Education approved in time for the 2012 school year.
“It is a perfect example of constituents coming to me and then a state representative and superintendent coming together to make this happen,” Boukus said, adding that she always encourages her constituents to approach her with ideas or issues they may have. “Here I am; my communities are the most important things. We all work on what the people need, and it takes cooperation of a lot of people.”
Even though she isn’t in session year-round, she is still constantly working for the people and trying to accomplish as much as she can in the state. Betty said she receives calls, hundreds of emails each day, letters, and many times people come up to her when she is grocery shopping in Plainville. She will meet with constituents and come up with a plan and a timeline of when issues can be addressed and hopefully resolved. If she can’t tackle an issue, she will forward that person to the appropriate department that can.
Before she was a state representative, Betty was an educator, worked in insurance, and also worked for the United Way. She was a Town Councilor, and chair of the council, when she was approached to run for office after former State Representative Eugene “Gene” Millerick decided not to run again. Betty said she is the first person in her family to run for an office, and after doing some research and talking with members of the legislature and Democratic Party she decided to run. She has been in office for 20 years and said she has no intentions of stepping down any time soon.
“My priority is service right now,” she said, adding that she is thankful for the support her family has provided over the last 20 years. “I don’t know how to do this job any other way,” than the way she does it now, she added.
As we walked through what seemed like a secret tunnel that joins the LOB and the State Capitol, Betty was able to give me some history on how she got started, what some of her favorite things are about being a state legislator, while also sharing some of her proudest accomplishments.
“It has been so rewarding,” she said, adding that she has been able to serve with former governors John Rowland and M. Jodi Rell, and has met so many people along the way, which she said is one of her favorite aspects about the job. She also said she was proud of being able to secure funding for after school programs in three towns, including Plainville, which did not have any after school program to offer.
While we were in the capitol, Betty introduced me to nearly every person we came in contact with. She also showed me a statue of Prudence Crandall, which she was responsible for bringing to Connecticut in 2008. After seeing the statue of Nathan Hale, dubbed Connecticut’s hero, school-age students would ask where Connecticut’s female hero was. This got the ball rolling on bringing Prudence’s statue to the state.
While Betty met with Gov. Malloy’s staff, I visited the House of Representative’s clerk’s office. This is the spot where all of the proposed bills go, and the clerks are present during voting sessions to record everything that is said. I visited the House of Representative chambers, where the voting takes place, the senate chambers, and even stood underneath the dome that stretches into the Hartford skyline.
When I met up with Betty again, we listened in on a school group getting a tour of the capitol, and then made our way back to the LOB. She took me to the Office of Legislative Research where individuals research information for legislators on various topics or bills being proposed. We visited the library, which is open to the public; we went to the intern office and business office and so much more and met all of the people who help to make the government work, behind the scenes.
Being a state representative, Betty also sits on various commissions and committees of the state legislator, including the Connecticut Hall of Fame Committee, Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, she is the Bonding Sub Committee Chair, and is a member of the Public Safety & Security Committee.
Betty said she encourages anyone and everyone to make the effort to visit her at the LOB, and approach her with issues so they can be addressed.
To reach her in Hartford, call (860) 240-8585 or 1-800-842-8267.
Reporter’s note: This reporter would like to thank State Rep. Betty Boukus once again for the invitation to spend the better part of the day with her on Thursday, Jan. 16, and taking time out of her busy schedule to show what it takes to get ready for the session.
By KAITLYN NAPLES